Oo La La!

Experience the sights and sounds of 19th-century Paris at a major new exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre, which opens at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath on February 15 and runs until May 26, 2020.

For the first time in the UK, Lautrec’s complete collection of posters, which revolutionised the world of graphic design, will be exhibited together. More than 80 iconic posters, many of them rare and seen here for the first time, will go on show. They will be displayed in their full colourful glory, many in giant format from floor to ceiling, recreating how they were originally seen on the streets of Paris.

The exhibition will include 32 posters by Toulouse-Lautrec along with works by other celebrated poster artists of the day such as Alphonse Mucha, Pierre Bonnard and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen.

The Post-Impressionist French painter, printmaker, caricaturist and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901) moved in the ‘celebrity’ circles of 19th-century Bohemian Paris. Hugely influenced by the flamboyant, vibrant, eclectic, free-spirited, debauched lifestyle of the time, his work was known for its provocative nature, highlighting Paris’s colourful nightlife, stripping away the glamour to bring the Parisian underworld to life.

Beginning in Montmartre in the 1880s, the exhibition examines Toulouse-Lautrec’s work as a printmaker and shines a light on the celebrated stars of the stage, and the styles and fashions of the time. His work features Paris’s most popular cafés, cabarets, and entertainers including stage star Yvette Guilbert and famous dancers like Jane Avril and Loïe Fuller.

The exhibition also draws parallels between Bohemian Paris and Bath, which itself was a mix of high society and a more debauched underworld in the Georgian and Regency periods. Bath also became a centre for lithography when Thomas Barker set up one of the first lithographic presses in the country outside London.

Jon Benington, Victoria Art Gallery Manager and exhibition curator, explains, “Toulouse-Lautrec elevated the status of the colour poster such that it became the street art of the 1890s. His iconic images for the Moulin Rouge Cabaret and other palaces of popular entertainment were so desirable that fans ripped them from their hoardings. Other leading artists who followed in his wake, such as Mucha, Steinlen and Bonnard, also feature in this stunning one-off show.”

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre is kindly supported by Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants, 131 Art Happens with Art Fund* donors, and the Friends of the Victoria Art Gallery.

The exhibition includes some rare examples of Lautrec’s work including:

Jane Avril (1899).  Lautrec’s last depiction of dancer Jane Avril and the second-last poster he made, considered one of his most compelling.  Just a few weeks after he finished it, he had a breakdown and was institutionalised. Avril rejected the poster and it was never used publicly, making examples particularly rare.

Yvette Guilbert (1894). Yvette Guilbert appeared more than any other performer in Lautrec’s work. He devoted two rare albums of lithographs entirely to Guilbert, something unheard of at the time. Just 100 copies were made, signed by the performer, and few have survived.

Other iconic posters featured in the exhibition include:


Le Divan Japonais 1892


Lautrec made this poster for the café-concert Divan Japonais, which became one of the artist’s many Parisian haunts. The success of this image on Paris’s streets contributed to Lautrec’s fame as well as that of the woman dressed in black – cancan dancer Jane Avril, one of his friends and a person with whom he became somewhat obsessed.


Jane Avril at the Jardin de Paris 1893

This poster was commissioned by Jane Avril from Lautrec to advertise her performances at the Jardin de Paris. The artist’s unusual view of the stage places the spectator in the orchestra pit, offering a close-up view of the action. Avril was quick to see the potential of using posters to advertise her personal brand. It was her alliances with artists, notably Lautrec, that set her on the path to fame, commencing with the Moulin Rouge which was her favourite venue.


Queen of Joy 1892

Lautrec’s neighbour and drinking partner, Victor Joze, commissioned this poster to promote his satirical novel, Queen of Joy, the Morals of the Demi-monde. Never one to sidestep a scandal, Lautrec shows us the moment when the book’s gold-digging protagonist, Hélène Roland, embraces her elderly patron, the banker Baron de Rozenfeld. The Jewish banker Baron Alphonse de Rothschild recognised himself as the protagonist of this steamy novel and tried to block the dissemination of both the book and the poster. The shrewd dealer Sagot quickly bought up the stock of posters and sold them for 4 francs a piece.


Ambassadeurs: Aristide Bruant 1892


Lautrec also applied his design skills to bolster the fame of another close friend, the nightclub performer Aristide Bruant. The latter was renowned for his coarse songs dealing with the hardships endured by the working classes – the criminals, drunks, prostitutes and tramps who inhabited Montmartre – and they were sung in street slang. This poster was created to promote the singer’s performances at the upscale café-concert Ambassadeurs in central Paris.


Moulin Rouge – La Goulue 1891

Image result for TOULOUSE-LAUTREC moulin rouge - la goulueOpened in 1889 in Montmartre and directed by the gregarious Charles Zidler, the Moulin Rouge soon became Lautrec’s night-spot of choice. This poster, Lautrec’s first, came into being when he was commissioned to create one to advertise the venue.

When 3,000 copies of this poster were put up in the streets of Paris in December 1891 it became an instant success, bringing Lautrec’s art to a broad audience for the first time.

STEINLEN, Théophile-Alexandre

Tour of The Black Cat 1896

The cabaret and club Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), founded in 1881 by impresario Rodolphe Salis, was at the heart of Bohemian Montmartre .

The Swiss artist Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen has often been compared with Lautrec, with whom he shared many subjects and often vied for celebrity commissions. Steinlen’s iconic poster was created months before the death of Salis and the subsequent closure of his famous cabaret.

Talks and Events

There will be a series of talks and tours to accompany the show. These will echo the joie de vivre of the Belle Époque and Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris, featuring music and entertainment to celebrate how visual art, music and dance were intertwined in this thrilling era.

Lunchtime Exhibition Tours

Every Thursday, 20 February to 7 May inclusive, 12.30pm-1pm

Free to Discovery Card and ticket holders.

Moulin Rouge and the Masters of Montmartre

Tuesday 23 February. Gallery open until 7.30pm. The Little Theatre doors open 7.30pm

Tickets £18

Enjoy a late-night opening of the exhibition followed by an exclusive viewing of Moulin Rouge at the Little Theatre. Ticket includes Gallery and cinema admission, and complimentary glass of Prosecco and popcorn with the film.

The Performers Unmasked

Saturdays 29 February; 7 & 14 March, 12pm-3pm

Students from Bath Spa University will reveal the human stories behind the posters.

Louche Late Night

Saturday 11 April, 6-8pm. Tickets £12

Immerse yourself in Parisian nightlife with this exclusive late-night opening with pay bar. Meet the real-life stars of 19th-century Montmartre and see the caricaturist Sensible Pencil in action.